CAPÍTULO 16 -- A TRADIÇÃO ORQUESTRAL
Sometimes when one listens to music--popular and otherwise--of the second half of the 20th century it would seem as if there had been a sudden radical break, that civilization had started over and that "modern" composers have thrown all old rules out the window and started from scratch.
While many new things have taken place in this frantically changing era, a complete break wasn't one of them. As you have already read, before modern electronic ensembles came about, there was a great deal of music written for the orchestra that contains the experimentation and the searching quality found in all "new music". Today there is less use of the orchestra as a medium of musical communication for the general public, but there is still much fine music written for this most complex of ensembles.
If you go to an orchestral concert, you'll find that much of the current repertoire consists of music written before 1900. Music of modern composers (i.e. composers still alive) makes up a tiny percentage of large orchestra concerts. On the rare occasions when "modern music" is presented, the music director will often close the program with a nice conservative piece of music by Haydn or Mozart almost in the tone of apology. Along with continued universal financial difficulties, does this signal the ultimate decline of the symphony orchestra outside of a few isolated ensembles and the medium of recording?
Not necessarily. In Europe, where the orchestra evolved (and the orchestral music is deeply rooted in the folk tradition and culture of countries whose history goes back centuries farther than America), the orchestra is quite an integral part of entertainment and culture.
A second important reason is that virtually any amount of orchestral music would pale in comparison to the incredible wealth of music written from the late Baroque up through the end of the Romantic era. This is a repertoire that may never be surpassed in its passionate emotions, its exploitation of the rich orchestral sonorities, and its ability to speak to the common man (or the searching Zeitgeist of the Romantic soul, a lot of which is still in us).
The face of music certainly has changed in the last century (to say nothing of the people who produce it), and perhaps the orchestra, its sound, its group dynamic might no longer reflect the mainstream culture. This should not suggest that the orchestra will gasp its last breath in the near future--a healthy civilization is one that tries not to reinvent the wheel every generation. A population that looks forward to the future is also one that reveres its past and makes room for respected classics in any genre, be it theatre, literature, cinema, visual arts, or music.
If one were thinking in a science fiction sense (as this book began), we have discovered how to store sounds, images, thoughts--perhaps even the very essence of our past selves that travel forward through time--we have created time machines (although only one-way as of yet!). We have created devices that allow us to step into them, almost as if we were stepping into a suit of clothes--and when we put them on, for a few brief seconds we experience the living thoughts, the fears, the passions, the faith of those who have lived before us decades, even centuries earlier.
Most of the composers listed below had the experience of having their music trashed by the musical establishment of the time--then finding themselves acclaimed as visionaries decades later. The motivation behind their music represents many of the same motivations, frustrations, and fears found in any music of this century, regardless of medium.
While there are many important composers of the twentieth century, the following twelve individuals represent some of the major trends in the "classical" music of our era.
Less than a decade before his death, Ives almost literally woke up one morning to find himself famous. Bitter and skeptical from his years of rejection and neglect, he scorned the Pulitzer prize he had been awarded and gave the money away. In 1951 his second symphony was performed by the New York Philharmonic at a concert he refused to attend. In secret, Ives did listen to the radio broadcast.
Ives' compositional style is one that often presents problems to the listener due to his unique approach. As can be said about many modern composers (as judged by their contemporaries), his music often makes for more fascinating discussion than listening. His compositions often include songs from his childhood, hymn tunes, noise, out of tune players and singers, two or more melodies being played at once (which clashed BADLY), all topped off by an extremely barbed sense of humor.
At least to the musicians of his own time (and to our ears, although things like this have a habit of changing), Ives may have tried to express more ideas than music can normally hold and still be approachable by the average listener. Nevertheless, he is ranked as one of the musical "greats", certainly the most important American composer, and someday he will receive the recognition that his music deserves.
Ives composed five symphonies, two string quartets, three piano sonatas, and many songs and other chamber works. One of his most commonly heard compositions is "The Unanswered Question" for orchestra. Another of his popular compositions, "Variations On America" is not really as typical of his musical language as much as it represents his musical approach and his irreverent sense of humor.
RECOMMENDED MUSIC: Variations on "America"; The Unanswered Question; Symphonies No. 2 and 4; Piano Sonata No. 2 "Concord"; Three Places in New England.
As a child, Schoenberg displayed unusual skill on the violin and cello and quickly began to write music for these instruments. In 1924 he became a professor at the Academy of Music in Berlin where a lot of his seemingly radical ideas in composition became known. His two most talented pupils, Alban Berg and Anton von Webern adopted and modified his techniques, but both died long before their famous teacher (and before they could reach their musical potential). Webern in particular was a very gifted and influential musician. One night during the American occupation of Berlin, Webern stepped out on his fire escape to light a cigarette. A trigger happy American soldier decided that he must be signaling someone and Webern's distinct musical voice was silenced forever.
Schoenberg's early music was in the Romantic tradition of composers such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Wagner. Their music displayed a trend of a weakening tonic [root] and shifting key tonal centers. It has a very restless feeling, constantly moving around, never giving a sensation of relaxation. This music is in a chain of a long line of music that embodies more and more tension as a simple part of its basic structure. Schoenberg's music is in some ways a logical continuation of this and in other ways, a complete break with it. Like Impressionism, it was a reaction against the Romantic philosophy.
Schoenberg's music is an example of the German Expressionist movement. This movement expressed chaos and confusion, conveying some of the more negative emotions, including those that drove people to insanity. Its advocates expressed emotions and feelings that would have been hidden during the earlier Romantic period. Instead of being concerned with heroes, this movement concentrated on very human emotions, which are often quite base and violent. Surrealist art (which dealt heavily with subconscious elements) was a dominant force during this period. Remember that this was the era in which Sigmund Freud began tapping into the subconscious, finding that some of the things that drive us are deeply hidden and dark secrets. Sometimes this art feels a bit like a bad dream where all of the elements of the familiar are present, but very confused, disjointed, frightening.
Romantic music, as you may remember, was filled with grand and huge sounds and emotions, great and glorious climaxes. Expressionist music expressed a darker, blacker side of human emotions. Serial music often tends to take a bleak, barren minimalist approach (especially in the way it was handled by Webern), again taking the road opposite of Romanticism. In its own way it contains as much emotion, as much implied violence as anything that the new wave or punk style has ever produced. Romanticism's drives ended in lifting the human spirit to new heights. Expressionism explored the depths of the human soul and experiences the grim workings of the subconscious.
There were a lot of influences that could potentially push things in a gloomier direction, such as a growing anxiety in Vienna, the increasing wave of anti-Semitism, and the humiliating defeat in WWI. From the music with its often sarcastic and ironic approach, we can look back and conclude that this was not a particularly happy era. (The musical "Cabaret" gives quite a searing portrait of this era.)
Schoenberg is known primarily for his technique called "serialism", deriving from the word "series". This involved a very ordered process of creating a matrix of all twelve notes, playing them and keeping them in a certain order. Along with many other rules to this system, he produced music that sounds very tragic, very emotionally charged, tortured even to the point of detachment. Although his influence is waning, his serial technique (also called 'twelve-tone music) dominated much of the music world for half of the 1900s.
RECOMMENDED MUSIC: Pierrot Lunaire; Piano Concerto; Piano Music; String Quartets 2 and 4. A BRIEF ILLUSTRATION OF SERIAL MUSIC PRINCIPLES Think of twelve-tone music not as a melody, but a shape. This shape can be turned backwards, upside down, and upside down and backwards. Any of these can also be transposed to start on another note, giving a total of 48 different possibilities. They can also be stacked vertically (not illustrated here) to give a harmony based on this original row.
For all practical purposes twelve-tone composers do NOT think of their original row as a visual quantity--but some of the process can be better understood by a visual representation. According to usual practice, when the pattern calls for an A#, ANY A# will do, regardless of the octave, negating the shape illustration somewhat. Still, a graphic image will get across some of the fascinating ideas that make this type of music extremely scientific and mathematical. In the following set of diagrams, the relationship between the four forms of the row will be seen in the relative position of the four descriptors.
Note how in the four following illustrations, the germinal idea holds its basic shape. There is some debate, however, as to whether the ear can really distinguish the row in its different forms.
This type of transformation is very orderly and can easily incorporate mathematics--and a computer as a calculation tool. The following is the printout of a relatively simple computer program that takes the original row and will print out a matrix showing all 48 possibilities.
Obviously, one doesn't listen to serial music with the same ears one uses to hear tonal music. If a listener tries to hear standard melodies and harmonies, he will come away quite disappointed. On the other hand, serial music is quite expressive and often conveys very deep emotions (although there are those who disagree). Try it sometime and listen to some of the most mathematically ordered music ever composed.
In 1907, he was appointed professor of piano at the Royal Academy and became involved in the presentation of contemporary music. His tremendous skill as a pianist was probably the reason why so much of his musical output was for the piano. During WWII his strong anti-Fascist stand caused him to flee to the United States where he died from leukemia in a New York hospital.
Bartok's music sounds very dissonant and angular at times, but has a lot of the lyricism that other contemporary music lacks. With a very important feeling for structure, his music is often a very carefully controlled "program" that reaches very intense peaks, still being quite approachable. Bartok recognized the importance of mathematical proportion in music and his compositions show a structural emphasis on the Golden Proportion (discussed in the Introduction and Unit One). Again, this is an important ratio which is found in many different types of creative art as well as in nature.
His important compositions include six string quartets, concerti for piano, violin, and viola; a composition, "Concerto For Orchestra"; Music For Strings, Percussion And Celesta", and much piano music.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: Piano Concerto No. 3; Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta; Suite from "The Miraculous Mandarin"; Concerto for Orchestra; Roumanian Folk Dances; Allegro Barbaro.
Stravinsky's music is full of very vivid and conflicting rhythms, and often has two key centers being sounded at once, a practice called polytonality.
Stravinsky is the best known and one of the earliest practitioners of a musical trend called primitivism. This type of music is very much a parallel to Picasso's cubist art and other art of the era. Primitivism is the use of very simple and primitive types of music and rhythm. It often resembles aboriginal folk art-but done with sophisticated musical instruments or other artistic media.
Stravinsky composed for ensembles of many different sizes, but his most famous (and notorious) compositions are his ballet scores, written for large orchestras. His ballet "The Rite Of Spring" (Le Sacre du Printemps) caused a full blown riot when it was first performed in Paris. The audience members broke out into fist fights, creating so much noise that the dancers on stage were unable to to hear the orchestra playing just below their feet.
Stravinsky's orchestral music is often a kaleidoscope of instrumental colors, a trait acquired in part from his teacher Rimski-Korsakov. Often his music takes instruments out of their usual playing ranges, something that created quite a bit of controversy in his own time.
In the early part of the century, Stravinsky's music represents the opposite direction from the serialism of Schoenberg. In some ways, it resembles a "back to nature" or "back to our roots" approach. Within our own era, we can see two opposing artistic movements that sprang from basically the same set of influences.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: The Rite of Spring; Firebird; Petrouchka; Song of the Nightingale; L'Histoire Du Soldat (The Soldier's Tale); The Rake's Progress (opera); Symphony of Psalms.
As some of Stravinsky's most important musical contributions were in the medium of the ballet, a very short discussion of ballet is appropriate here. The medium sprang from the Medieval/Renaissance use of dancing and singing in larger works, perhaps heavily influenced by Masques. Gradually during the Renaissance, ballet became specialized enough for dancers to concentrate on their movement and in consequence, little and eventually no singing was done by the dancers (vocal prowess requires a great deal of specialization on its own). This tradition holds through to today where the vocal sounds are added later or are recorded in the first place. Ballet received a good kick start under the patronage of the French monarch Louis XIV, a.k.a. the "Sun King" (according to tradition, he he received this nickname after appearing in a ballet as the sun). An early noted ballet composer was Jean Baptiste Lully. Some of the musical milestones of the twentieth century have been ballet scores performed in concert versions without the benefit of the vehicle of dance.
The ballet tradition is one of equal partners--the story is told through the expressiveness of the music and the dancing/movement/acting of the performers. Along with some of its secondary partners, and the inclusion of the video medium in this presentation, ballet is a complex art form.
Modern ballet dancers must go through extremely demanding and concentrated training to achieve their seemingly effortless motion (which actually requires great strength coupled with the refined ability for subtle precision). Among professional athletes, ballet dancers have some of the most highly developed (if not THE most highly) developed physiques.
In 1918, Prokofiev left Russia and visited London, Paris, and the United States, composing an important opera here, called "The Love of Three Oranges". He returned to the U.S.S.R. in 1933.
His music contains a lot of pointed wit, mockery and satire. Numerous times his unconventional approach landed him in trouble with members of the Communist party.
Like many of the composers in the Soviet Union, Prokofiev lived through very difficult and shattering times, seeing many artists around him disappear as a result of Stalin's brutal rule. He lived through an era where there was grave danger in expressing one's true feelings, even when hidden in the ambiguity of absolute music. Like that of Shostakovich (see below), his music often is a testament to the human spirit and its strength in the worst of situations.
He composed seven symphonies, five piano concerti, two violin concerti, much piano music and other chamber music, operas, ballet scores, the orchestral/narrative "Peter and the Wolf", and music for a new medium that was springing up at the time, the motion picture.
One of the most notable of any film scores is his music to "Alexander Nevsky", a movie made by Sergei Eisenstein in 1938. He later arranged this music for chorus, soprano soloist and orchestra.
RECOMMENDED MUSIC: Symphonies Nos. 1, 5 and 7; Romeo and Juliet; Piano Concerto No. 3; Alexander Nevsky; Lieutenant Kije; Peter and the Wolf; Piano music.
Not the least of his accomplishments include the synthesis of jazz and classical styles. In an era when many musical experiments were being done that left audiences cold, his orchestral music received acclaim from critics and listeners, remaining popular to this day. Like Debussy and Ravel (who became friends with him), Gershwin almost single-handedly created a new symphonic musical genre.
Outside of creating orchestral music, Gershwin composed most of his music for Broadway and films, becoming fabulously wealthy and famous in the process. There is a story that as his fame was beginning to mushroom, Gershwin, whose musical background was a bit sketchy, secretly contacted Igor Stravinsky (discussed above) and asked for composition lessons. Stravinsky asked Gershwin how much money he made the previous year. When told, Stravinsky burst out, "You made that much??? I should be begging YOU for composition lessons!!!" and refused to teach Gershwin. Had he lived a couple more decades, there's no telling what new musical trails Gershwin would have blazed. His musical masterpiece "Porgy and Bess" broke the boundaries between musical theatre and opera.
Gershwin's popular tunes as well as his symphonic compositions are rhythmically complex and catchy, giving a fast, dynamic, urban feeling. To convey a feeling of the atmosphere of New York City, Woody Allen used Gershwin's music in the soundtrack of "Manhattan".
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: Rhapsody in Blue; An American in Paris; Piano Concerto in F; Porgy and Bess (a musical, although really an opera); popular songs such as "I Got Rhythm", "Someone to Watch Over Me"; "They All Laughed", etc.
Of all the great American composers thus far, no one had Copland's privilege of being so highly honored in his lifetime. The son of Russian immigrants (like Gershwin), Copland was celebrated in numerous festivals all over the United States when he turned 85. Few contemporary "classical" composers have had the distinction of having their music used in as diverse places as television themes, commercials, as well as several Emerson, Lake, and Palmer albums. As a composer for films, his music to the movie "The Heiress" won an Academy Award.
Somewhat ironically, the music that made him so well known was written quite early in his lifetime.
Copland was born in Brooklyn in 1900. His influence on this generation of composers is very strong, even though he stopped composing in the 1960s.
A lot of his early music was very dissonant, dense, and complex as is much of the music that reflects the chaos of the twentieth century. When he found that this was losing the interest of the general listening audience, Copland began with a new musical style that was much more pleasing to listen to, often using folk music, including square dance music, cowboy songs, sometimes borrowing from jazz.
Copland's influences on American composers cannot be overstated. Much of his music is almost instantly recognizable, and has a very distinct American flavor.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: Rodeo; Billy the Kid; Appalachian Spring; A Lincoln Portrait; Fanfare for the Common Man; El Salon Mexico.
Born in what is now Leningrad, Shostakovich is the first of a generation of composers to have grown up under the Soviet regime and influence. Showing musical talent at an early age, his influential growing years centered around the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. The violent and oppressive politics of the Stalin era served to temper a long and productive career.
The music of Shostakovich serves to bring us to one of the harsh realities that influence modern music--artistic policy created by political oppression.
Shostakovich had enjoyed a quickly rising musical career, including an opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk which borrowed from many modern influences, including jazz. This opera was successful until it was slammed by a writer in Pravda and said to have been a "mess instead of music". Stalin himself attended a performance, seconding the opinion. Shostakovich found himself in grave trouble with the officials of his government who wished to dictate all musical policy and style.
After a period of self-examination, his next major product was his fifth symphony which he called a creative reply to just criticism. Like the fifth symphony of Beethoven, it begins in a very somber and oppressive mood and works its way to a blazing ending, although with a less self-assured "victory". Many of his next ten symphonies are programmatic and deal with heroism in modern Soviet history. Although he soon after received the Stalin prize and became the officially sanctioned Soviet composer, this was only the first of several episodes in Shostakovich's life where he got into trouble with the powers that ruled.
The first composer to be cited as a "Hero of Socialist Labor", Shostakovich's death was mourned as a great loss to the musical world and the Soviet sphere, especially as an artist who had created masterpieces in the Soviet ideal.
The story does not end here and unfortunately, it doesn't have what even remotely resembles a happy ending. The story tells of all of the convictions of truth and conscience that each artist must carry. It is a story of pain, struggle--and heroism.
A few years after his death, a book was published in the West called "Testimony". It told the story of human spirit that would not be broken by the bonds of political oppression. It told the story of the horrors of Stalinist oppression on the Russian people and of a voice who urged courage through it all. "Testimony" was the posthumous memoirs of Dimitri Shostakovich telling a different side to the story.
The fifth symphony of Shostakovich is a powerful and dynamic work. It contains many ironies, much of a feeling of struggle and oppression. Like Beethoven's corresponding opus, it is the story of a soul dealing with a struggle, and the resolution of that conflict. While on the surface it represented Shostakovich's stepping back into line, it is said that at its first performance, there were many members of the audience who were weeping because they understood the message behind the music.
In 1981, Maxim Shostakovich, gifted conductor and son of Dimitri--along with Dimitri Shostakovich, pianist and grandson of the composer--emigrated to the United States.
Repression of thought, of artistic voice is just one of the many influences that has become a part of the twentieth century and of its arts. This is unfortunate, but that makes it no less of a reality. While the personal suffering in his music is something we in the freedom of the West cannot comprehend--like the Beethoven fifth, his music is a glimpse of the unbreakable human spirit and its strength in the face of suffering. This part of it we CAN understand. This is where the universal gospel of the arts can tell our own story better than anything else. Maybe when opposing countries and political systems begin opening up to each other, this is why some of the first exchanges are the arts.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: Symphonies 1, 5, 8, 10, 14, 15; The Age of Gold (ballet); Piano concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto #1; Piano music
Cage's concept of music has gone far beyond the normal parameters of musical sound. Not interested in traditional harmony and melody, Cage chooses to use different "instruments" for his timbral organization. These have included bowls, pots, buzzers, brake drums and many other unconventional sound sources. In addition, his music often chooses to break down the barriers between the organization of musical sound and the random organization of non-musical sound. Many of his compositions include aleatoric elements i.e, elements determined by chance. One consists of the performer taking the loose musical pages of the composition out on to the stage, dropping them--they will scatter--and playing them in the order in which they are picked up.
Cage often makes use of silence. His noted (or if you wish, notorious) composition 4'33" consists of one or more instrumentalists sitting at their instruments and playing nothing for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The REAL sound of the composition consists of the sounds of the environment around the performers--audience members shuffling or sneezing, street sounds that filter into the performing area, etc.
Another innovation that Cage is noted for is the concept of the "prepared piano", that is, a piano that has some strings loosened, some tightened, some with paper between them, some with screws or other objects wedged between them, etc., turning an already versatile instrument into a kaleidoscope of percussive sound.
These are just a few of the examples of his remarkably creative approach to musical sound. While his music is often cited in heated discussions of the validity of modern music, there can be no argument that John Cage has expanded our definition and understanding of music and the organization that we call musical sound. In his own words, "My purpose is to eliminate purpose."
In 1959 he entered a number of his compositions in an annual contest in Poland (several of them anonymously) and won three of the top four prizes. Penderecki's first major break as a composer came in 1960 with his orchestral piece "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" which was awarded the UNESCO prize in 1961. Performed entirely by a string orchestra (sounding more like synthesizers), its tone colors are calculated to shock the ears of the listener.
As a young child, he saw the Nazi massacre of the Jewish population of his town, something which had a profound effect on his music. Many of his compositions are very large-scale choral and orchestral compositions based on religious themes; a Te Deum, a Requiem, Utrenja (the entombment and resurrection of Christ), St. Luke Passion, etc. in which his powerful effects match very well the pain and drama being portrayed. One of his compositions, Polymorphia, is based on brain waves of mentally disturbed patients and was used in the soundtrack of "The Exorcist". Another, "Dies Irae" is a collection of poetry written by authors who died in concentration camps during World War II.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: The St. Luke Passion; Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima; Polymorphia; Te Deum
Glass had published about 20 compositions at the completion of his studies. These were in a conservative style, but were withdrawn after his work with Ravi Shankar, Indian sitarist and composer (and sitar teacher to George Harrison). This and further studies in Indian music caused his compositional style to change drastically into one that has surfaced in the midst of many diverse compositional styles. It has hit a popularity in not only the classical market, but also in the popular markets, showing some rock influence.
Glass' music is often described as "minimalist". I find a good working definition of minimalism to be a work that uses certain elements sparingly to force the concentration of the viewer or listener onto one specific element or just a few elements. Many of his compositions use hypnotically repeating rhythmic and melodic phrases which evolve very slowly over the course of the composition. It also breaks with current trends by its use of very traditional harmonies and tonal centers.
The music inspires a lot of debate among listeners and audiences. Occasionally near-riots break out during performances of his compositions (see the bio of Stravinsky!). Some of his noted compositions include an opera "Einstein On The Beach" (4 1/2 hours long); the score to the movie "Koyaanisqatsi"; and a best selling album on the Columbia label, "Glassworks". Very recently he recorded "Songs From Liquid Days" in compositional collaboration with Paul Simon, David Byrne, Suzanne Vega, Laurie Anderson and others.